Representatives of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness recently attended Generations of Faith, an event sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops which reached out to religious leaders from the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Sikh traditions.
Held on November 19th at the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington D.C, the event was intended to raise awareness of why and how each tradition has come to see the need for interreligious dialogue—leading to mutual appreciation, respect and cooperation in our increasingly pluralistic society.
It was also a unique opportunity for older generations of religious leaders to share what they wanted to pass on to their younger counterparts regarding interreligious cooperation, and for the young people to express what they hoped to learn from their elders.
Cardinal Thedore McCarrick and Washington D.C.’s new Archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl were expected to attend the event, but were called to Rome on an urgent matter at the last minute.
Those who did attend Generations of Faith and served as panelists included Rev. Felix Machado, Catholic Archbishop of Visai, India; Dr. Manohar Singh Grewal of the World Sikh Council; Dr. Ohun Chung Lee of Won Buddhist International; Rev. Francis Reiss, Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit, Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed of the Islamic
Society of North America, and Anuttama Dasa of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Twenty young leaders joined them, including ISKCON’s Dr. Ravi Gupta (Radhika Ramana Dasa), Professor of Hinduism at the prestigious College of William and Mary in Virginia; and Vineet Chander (Venkata Bhatta Dasa), ISKCON’s North American Director of Communications and Princeton University’s Coordinator of Hindu Religious Life.
The event, subtitled “An Interreligious Encounter,” began at 9:00am, with a keynote address by Rev. Felix Machado, who is also the leader of the Catholic Church’s Interfaith Commission for India.
Machado spoke about the importance of Nostra Aetate, the Catholic Church’s 1965 official statement in which it opened itself to appreciating the values of other religious faiths. He spoke about the benefits of Catholics working cooperatively with people of other religions and valuing their contributions, while at the same time maintaining their faith in Jesus Christ and their fidelity to their own tradition.
Machado also addressed the challenges of interacting with people of different faiths, and of being willing to open oneself to the critical eye of those outside one’s own tradition.
This led to some discussion about subjects often brought up by people critical of religion, such as terrorism, and the past history of violence between religious faiths.
“Leaders expressed that there was a need for religious people to openly discuss these dark parts of our collective history, after which we should move forward based on principles of tolerance, and more importantly, respect,” says Anuttama Dasa, ISKCON’s representative at the event.
In a later discussion, the Auxilliary Bishop from Detroit, Bishop Francis Reiss, illustrated the need for understanding each other and our differences through a story from his childhood.
When the Bishop, now in his seventies, was a young boy in 1950s Detroit, he and his pregnant mother got onto a bus which was completely full. Immediately, one African-American man stood up and gave Reiss’s mother a seat, ignoring the deep racial tension between the city’s black and white communities. She thanked him for his gentlemanly conduct, and when they got off the bus a few miles later, turned to the young future Bishop and said, ‘Don’t you ever forget what you saw there.’
Anuttama Dasa, meanwhile, commented on ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada’s respect for all authorized religions.
In chapter four of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, he writes: “It is not a fact that the Lord appears only on Indian soil. He can manifest Himself anywhere and everywhere, and whenever He desires to appear. In each and every incarnation, He speaks as much about religion as can be understood by the particular people under their particular circumstances. But the mission is the same—to lead people to God consciousness and obedience to the principles of religion. Sometimes He descends personally, and sometimes He sends His bona fide representative in the form of His son, or servant, or Himself in some disguised form.”
After the day of dialogue concluded, the religious leaders opened their conversation to the public, sharing their common experiences and personal insights from 6:00pm to 8:00pm.
“This dialogue showed that leaders of the Catholic Church in North America are seeing the importance of creating interfaith awareness amongst their young adults and youth,” Anuttama says. “And it was a very positive thing that two second generation leaders of our broader ISKCON community were able to take part in this event.”
“I hope that ISKCON communities around the world can prioritize the need to educate our young people and children about the rich diversity of religious experience that exists in the world,” he concludes, “And about the need to have a mature and open-minded Vaishnava view of other traditions and other people of faith.”